Commission for Africa on youth entrepreneurship

Myles Wickstead, head of the secretariat to the Commission for Africa, was one of a number of high profile contributors to an online debate on a recent report by Youth Business International (YBI) that looked at how to promote youth entrepreneurship through access to capital.

YBI’s report, entitled Youth Entrepreneurship: Beyond Collateral, calls for “a fundamental shift in the way that the value of non-financial support is recognised” to enable young entrepreneurs “to reach their potential in social change, job creation and economic renewal”. Business Fights Poverty hosted the online debate, which saw contributions from other high-profile commentators – including Justina Charles, Minister Of Culture, Youth & Sports for the Commonwealth of Dominica; former World Bank Executive Director, Per Kurowski; Jane Nelson, director of Corporate Social Responsibility at the Harvard Kennedy School and star of Dragons’ Den Peter Jones – as well as members of the Business Fights Poverty network.

Both the 2005 and the 2010 Commission for Africa reports put considerable emphasis on the need to promote the conditions where private enterprises of all sizes could thrive – as well as the importance of supporting small businesses, particularly those run by young people. African governments have done a lot in recent years to make it easier to do business in their countries. The 2010 report calls upon them to continue these efforts and to do more to support small enterprises and promote youth employment.

Myles’ comments focused on the wider societal and economic benefits of promoting youth entrepreneurship and employment:

“There are now more people living in the world than the cumulative total of all the people who have ever lived in the world before us. People are generallly living longer; and whilst there is still a long way to go before we can claim success against the fourth Millennium Development Goal of reducing by two-thirds the under-five mortality rate by 2015, many more children are living beyond their fifth birthday and into adulthood.

There are many implications to these developments, not least in the way that financial and other services are provided. At one end of the spectrum, it seems bizarre that people find it increasingly difficult to get insurance cover as they get older – even those who continue to lead active lives and have never made a claim. At the other, it will be crucial to look at the full spectrum of instruments to ensure that young people are able to lead healthy and productive lives. This includes the provision of post-primary and vocational training, but also finding ways of enabling and releasing the entrepreneurial instincts of the younger generation.

The downside of not doing this is clear – increasing numbers of young people with no jobs and no channel for their aspirations is a recipe for instability and conflict. The upside is equally clear, not least for the older generation who will come to depend increasingly on their children and their children’s children to support them into old age. That means, put bluntly, a younger generation which has jobs. It is important, therefore, to continue to find ways of providing collateral and guarantees for youth lending; but increasingly important as well to look at ways in which non-financial services can help in meeting these important objectives.

I very much welcome this Report from the Prince’s Youth Business International, which signals the start of the debate rather than the end of it. It could not be more timely, and I hope that the discussion which it generates will lead to a clearer recognition of the importance of access to non-financial (as well as financial) services in ensuring that young people can fulfil their potential.”

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